We are nearing the end of February already, which just seems unbelievable to me. Time just seems to pass so quickly when you are having fun! Yes, working in the kitchen and creating recipes for Healthy Cooking For Today.com, and sharing my thoughts, and ideas with you is a very rewarding and fun part of my day. When out to dinner at a very upscale restaurant with one of my dearest friends one evening he said “I never met anyone who enjoyed food so much, you seem to savor every thing about it, the fragrance, the texture and of course the taste. Yes, that was a very accurate characterization of me because it has been noted before. I am a very slow eater and yes, I like to savor the taste of my food and by doing this you can identify what spices, herbs and flavorings where used as well as how the dish was prepared by the texture of the food. I can usually create a similar dish without a recipe. Not unlike the artist, or woodworker or anyone that has a interest or a hobby, we just lose ourselves in our work, as I can spend hours in my kitchen cooking and in my office writing. Perhaps that is why time goes so quickly for me. But honestly I wouldn’t want it any other way.
How are you doing with your New Year’s resolutions? I actually wonder if making resolutions is really necessary. no one ever keeps them anyway! Personally, I just like to sit quietly for awhile, preferably with a favorite old tune playing-like now, with Carly Simon’s Moonlight Serenade mix-and reflect on my life as my mind conjures up some memorable flashbacks, some good and some not so good, and that alone can indicate if changes are in order. Nope, I am quite content at this stage of my life, a Happy Camper as the saying goes.
I recently celebrated another birthday at a wonderful birthday party given by my children and grandchildren at my granddaughter and her husband’s beautiful new home, with most of my family. Unfortunately, 4 of my out of state grandchildren were not able to attend. However, I was surprised with a lovely bouquet of flowers from my grandson Justin and his wife from Boston and a beautiful basket arrangement from my sister and her children from Florida. Then for Valentine’s Day another beautiful bouquet from my oldest grandsons. The beautiful, fragrant flowers certainly were a welcome treat during the cold damp snowy weather we have been having.
If you are a Foodie like me, you are always interested in experimenting with all the new techniques, new gadgets and small appliances that are presented each year, and this year was no exception.
There was the Vegetable Spiralizer, actually the first one appeared on the market in 2016 and was called the Veggetti, which was a small gadget that was very simple to use manually. Unfortunately, it may have been difficult to use for someone with a hand impairment and I am sure that manufacturers took notice and soon another manual spiralizer with a crank called the Wonder Veg Slicer was on the market and now even better, we have the KitchenAid Stand Mixer Attachment that peels, cores and slices. Lucky me, I received one for Christmas. The kids know how to please me, just buy me a kitchen gadget or a small appliance or a gift card for the food market, as food shopping is a simple pleasure for me.
A few days ago I made chicken soup and realized that I didn’t have any noodles. So in place of the noodles, I used a large yellow squash and I spiralized and simmered it in the soup and honestly the squash tastes exactly like noodles and it was nice to know that I was adding another vegetable to my meal. I don’t think that I will have the need to buy noodles in the future.
Although I will not be elaborating on an actual chicken soup recipe, because most perhaps have their own version, however I will share the rules I learned by observing my mom, who made the best soup ever. Honestly, I can close my eyes and visualize me no more than 9 or 10 sitting on her kitchen stool that was metal with a green leather seat and attentively observing her and as I think about it now, possible annoying her. Yes, my mom was wonderful, and she would answer all my questions in detail and her advise has remained with me all my life!
1) If making chicken soup from scratch, mom would always purchase a fowl-funny story, when I asked the butcher a few years ago for a fowl, he didn't know what type of chicken that it was and to this day I have never been able to buy one-the dictionary list it as a domestic hen, so if there is a chicken connoisseur among us, give me a hint as to what I should ask the butcher for. Personally, I just use whatever kind of chicken I have and I place it in my stockpot and cover it with water and simmer it and using a small strainer, I keep skimming the liquid of the fat and particles that rise to the surface, so as the broth will be flavorful and clear. Remove the chicken and strain the broth to remove any small pieces of bone or cartilage and return broth to the stock pot and continue to simmer.
2) Add your vegetables, beginning with a bouquet of greens, such as fresh parsley and celery, carrot greens. Mix in chopped carrots and potatoes or even summer or winter squash. The list is truly endless. Actually I usually look in the refrigerator for leftover vegetables or even check my pantry and freezer if I am short of fresh vegetables. You can even add canned whole or diced tomatoes which are especially tasty in beef soup-directions for beef soup below. Add the chicken by shredding or dicing and cook the soup until the raw vegetables are tender. Do a taste test and add salt and pepper to taste.
If making beef soup, you would use approximately 1 ½ lbs of chuck and a few marrow soup bones-which usually can be found in you meat case or ask the butcher. Rinse the meat and bones and place them in the soup pot and add about 1 ½ quarts water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 hour, skimming the broth as instructed above. Add carrots and potatoes which have been cut into serving pieces and one or 2 whole canned tomatoes. Cut and X in the top of a onion to release the juices and add whole. Add salt and pepper to taste and continue cooking until meat and vegetables are tender.
3) Add your grains, such as noodles rice, barley or one of the popular ancient grains, However if incorporated uncooked be sure to add a little extra liquid and add enough time for them to cook and you also can use spiralized vegetables with rice or barley.
Now if this was a popularity contest. I certainly would give a high ranking to a few other techniques, especially Sheet Pan Dinners. This is a perfect time saver for working moms and dads in as much as all the ingredients for your dinner are roasted at a high temperature on a sheet pan for a short time and are ready for serving, usually in less than an hour, with the exception of pasta or some sauces they would be cooked separately on top of the stove while the Sheet Pan Meal is in the oven. Another plus is by roasting vegetables and meat and fish at higher temperatures their sugar and protein caramelizes, which in turn produces a rich, deep and pungent flavor. Every dish that I made was unbelievably delicious from the simplelist to the more robust!
I also enjoyed experimenting with Muffin Pan Dinners and Desserts and of course the rebirth of the Dump method of cooking and not only do we have desserts like the Dump Blueberry Peach Crisp that I shared in my last update, we now have Dump Soup, Dump Dinners and Dump Crock Pot Dinners. These recipes are simple, quick and healthy. But before I start sharing my ideas and recipes for you to try, I would like to highlight two readers in my CREATIVE CORNER
The first is 16 year old Mackenzie from Endwell, New York who baked the beautiful Christmas Tree centerpiece for her family’s holiday table. What a great job Mackenzie and feel free to spotlight more of your fabulous work. Perhaps it will entice other teenagers who enjoy cooking to share their culinary endeavors.
Next is Greg from Connecticut whose wife Kara shared his Super Bowl Sunday delicious Baked Chicken Wings with a very special sauce. Yes, being baked they fit perfectly into my HealthyCookingForToday guidelines.
Also to surprise Greg she made him a special Valentine’s Day gift. Very healthy too, strawberries and chocolate. Although Kara added, she had to rearrange the tray just before he arrived home because her little one ate a few!
If you would like to be featured in my Creative Corner send you photos and details to May@HealthyCookiingForToday.com. You can also send your questions, recipe request and comments to that email address as well.
Sheet Pan Dinners
No need to search out a recipe in a cookbook, just conjure up in your mind a thought of various combinations of vegetables and protein and follow the simple prep for the Sheet Pan Dinners.
- Heat oven to 425 degrees F. I like to line my pan with foil and spray it lightly with cooking spray. Others suggest lining the pan with parchment paper, however, at a high temperature the paper doesn’t seem to hold up too well. Perhaps it was my brand.
- Prepare root vegetables and hard vegetables such as winter squash as well as yellow summer squash and zucchini by slicing. Potatoes usually are cut in quarters if large or in half if small. Carrots usually in 2 inch pieces on the bias and onions peeled and cut into wedges. The squash would depend on the size of the vegetable.
- I prefer to add whatever spices and herbs that I am using in a large bowl with at least 2 tablespoons oil and at least ½ teaspoon salt and whisk to blend. Add the vegetables first and toss to coat with the mixture and then the protein you are using, following directions on how to apply it.
- If your dinner is going to include a vegetable that just needs to be heated, such as microwave frozen corn or the new microwave steamed products, you can invest in foil trays that fit on the sheet pan and reheat the food in them near the end of the cooking time.
For my featured Sheet Pan Dinner, I stepped out of the box just a little bit and instead of including cut up chicken in my recipe, I used a small 1 ½ pound chicken that I purchased last week because it was a buy 1, get 1 free sale and cooking chicken often, I always take advantage of the sales. Also I realized that a sheet pan would not be a safe oven vessel to use because the chicken juice might splatter, so I used a roasting pan. Unfortunately, the pan could not accommodate all the ingredients that I was using, which included potatoes. Carrots, mushrooms and green beans, so I supplemented with one of my purchased foil pans for the beans and mushrooms and everything worked perfectly.
To begin, in a large bowl I added the following ingredients: 2 Tbsp. Dijon Mustard, 2 Tbsp.Brown Mustard, 2 Tbsp. honey, 2 Tbsp. brown sugar, 3 Tbsp. olive oil, 1 tsp. dried rosemary, crushed, 1 tsp. dried Thyme, ½ cup fresh parsley, chopped or ¼ cup dried and ½ tsps. of salt. Remove a portion of the rub to a small bowl, enough to rub on to the chicken, as not to contaminate the remaining mixture that will be used for the vegetables.
Cut the vegetables as instructed above and place in the bowl and toss to coat with the mixture. Place the chicken in the pan on a small trivet or rack and apply the mixture to the chicken by gently lifting the skin, without tearing, and applying it generously to the breast and thighs. Place the vegetables that have been coated in the pan and if using a larger pan leave room for the foil pan for the beans and mushrooms-I use fresh beans that are purchased in the produce department and are steamed in the microwave in their special bag and would only needed to be heated to have all ingredients to be ready to serve. I sauteed fresh mushrooms in the foil pan in the oven in a small amount of Smart Balance and olive oil near the end of the cooking time an added the already steamed beans, which just needed to be heated and mixed with the cooked mushrooms an sprinkled with some oven fried crispy onions.
Cook the chicken, the potatoes and the carrots 1 hour at 425 Degrees F. or until chicken is cooked to 165 Degrees F and the vegetables are tender The skin on the chicken will be somewhat charred, but when the skin is easily removed there will be a beautifully cooked flavorful chicken. Hey, be creative, almost anything works. Just like this old fashion ethnic dish, Kielbasa, sauerkraut and potatoes. Why soil different pans, put everything on a sheet pan and everything is ready to go at the same time. I did use a foil pan for the sauerkraut on the sheet pan to catch the juices and I should add the beer too-add some beer, paprika, cracked pepper, onion or onion powder to the sauerkraut. Very tasty, also not to feel too guilty, I cooked Turkey Kielbasa!
I really didn’t get this one because when I was busy or lazy, I remember making a meal in a bowl, so there wouldn’t be to much cleanup in the kitchen. But I have to admit, I did enjoy a few of the bowls I made and the cleanup was a snap. Not only were they simple to make, but were very healthy as well.
For my rice bowl, I used microwave steamed frozen brown rice as the base. I simply sauteed broccoli. mushrooms and in a small amount of olive oil and Smart Balance, added some pineapple chunks to the mix, heated some All Fruit Pineapple Spread and made a slurry-a mixture of a cup of pineapple juice and a scant tablespoon of cornstarch together-and added the mixture to the Pineapple All Fruit and heated it in the microwave until thickened. I added the vegetables and pineapple to the rice and poured in the All Fruit mixture and sprinkled some peanuts on top. There you go, my protein, my grains, my vegetables and my fruit.
I also made what they are calling a Breakfast Bowl. I made this bowl using Cheerios as the base and made a Chunky Smoothie in my Vitamix. Using frozen fruit-½ banana, 4 strawberries, 4 peach slices and some Greek Yogurt and a splash of Almond Milk, I Vita Mixed the contents until it was blended but still chunky. This was poured over the cereal and sprinkled with a palm full of walnuts. Unbelievably delicious and again very healthy!
Muffin Pan Dinners: Appetizers, Meals, and Desserts
Maybe I have just be around to long, but this is old hat to me because I was making muffin pan food when my children were youngsters and one of their favorites was muffin pan baloney cups with scrambled eggs. As a matter of fact, my son made them for his family as well and now that I am remembering how tasty they were, I am going to add some turkey baloney to my shopping list. Can you imagine the nasty comments that would be posted, if this was on Facebook? Yes, I am aware of processed meats like cold cuts, hotdogs and sausages that may contain unhealthy ingredients, but eating them in moderation in small amounts will not altered your healthy eating regimen.
I must admit, I did have a lot of fun experimenting with all types of ingredients for this muffin pan revisited adventure, I do not have the space to share many of them today, perhaps you will enjoy making this simple recipe and l am certain that your family will enjoy eating my Southwestern Barbecue Chicken Taco Cups.
Southwestern Barbecue Chicken Taco Cups
6 6 inch tortillas
1 lb chicken, cooked and shredded
Chicken may be simmered in chicken broth or baked
Leftover cooked chicken, shredded
Cheddar Cheese or Mexican Cheese Blend
Non Fat Sour Cream
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Place 4 to 6 tortillas between two damp paper towels in the microwave for to warm for 30 seconds-they become more pliable and will easily conform to the shape of the muffin cup.
Cut rounds to fit into the muffin cups and reserve unused tortilla pieces. Spray muffin cups-I used 3 ½ inch muffin cups- with butter flavored cooking spray and insert tortilla rounds-pleat to fit into cups. Mix shredded chicken with the barbecue sauce and a sprinkling of cheese. Place mixture in muffin cups and top with cheese. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until tortillas are crisp and cheese is melted.
Cut the remaining pieces of the tortillas and place on a small sheet pan or a foil pan that has been sprayed with butter flavored cooking spray. Spray tortilla pieces with the same spray and sprinkled with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar or a blend of spices, onion or garlic powder and place in the oven with the Chicken Tacos. Watch closely so that the chips do not burn. Great eaten plain or for dipping!
I promise, I will share more of my experiments using these three cooking techniques during the year because the are easy, quick to prepare and pretty healthy too! But for now, because my cup is runneth over with words, and I want to use the space to refresh your memory with some vital information.
The month of February not only brings to light affairs of the heart to celebrate Valentine’s Day but also to refresh our memories on ways to have a healthy heart and because studies show that 1 in 3 Americans has some form of cardiovascular disease and that number is rising. Listed below are a few steps that you can take to alleviate this risk for you.
- Reduce the amount of the white stuff - sugar and salt which are both bad for your heart. Sugar ups your weight, blood pressure and triglycerides and salt raises blood pressure by making your body retain fluid.
- Walk - great for reducing your weight and helps to show greater improvement in your good cholesterol and blood pressure.
- Go Mediterranean, no, not on vacation, but by adhering to the Mediterranean Diet that stresses eating more vegetables and fruits, whole grains, chicken and fish and moderate drinking-like red wine. The diet suggests limited red meat, refined grains and sweets-not eliminating, but in moderation. HealthyCookingForToday promotes and adheres to the guidelines of the Mediterranean diet-click All Post at the top of the page and click on New Year, New You, Feb. 2017 to read the guidelines of the Mediterranean Diet. JUST SAYING!
- Put out that cigarette - studies have shown that smoking 3 cigarettes per day boost the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 64 percent.
- Be an optimist - again, studies have shown that optimists are less likely to develop heart disease because cynical people have high blood pressure and stress hormones that can prime arteries for the development of plaque.
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DISCLAIMER - HealthyCookiingForToday.com is to supply my readers with timely nutritional and medical information and suggestions for healthier food choices and recipes and is not intended to give personal medical advice, which should be obtained from your personal physician.